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Chapter 12 - ‘Cut me and I Bleed Dior’: The Dark Side of Glamour in American Horror Story

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 March 2024

Richard J. Hand
Affiliation:
University of East Anglia
Mark O'Thomas
Affiliation:
University of Greenwich
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Summary

It is Christmas Eve, and a character interpreted by Joan Collins has killed her husband. The punishment comes to her soon. Imprisoned in the house during a heavy snowfall, she is stalked by an escaped psychopath dressed as Santa Claus. The description above is not from the British horrorthemed portmanteau film Tales from the Crypt (Freddie Francis 1972) but from episode seven of the eighth season of AHS: ‘Apocalypse’ (FX 2018), which recreates the famous tale of a femme fatale hunted down by a serial killer donning a Santa Claus costume.

One of the elements that remains from the classic horror tale is the glamour that Collins always carries with her. As argued by Carol Dyhouse, ‘Joan Collins's career as a glamour icon spanned more than half a century’ (Dyhouse 2010, 142) since she was featured in the 1950s in the aptly named magazine Glamour. Interestingly, Dyhouse traces the origins of the word ‘glamour’ to its roots in association with black magic and the sinister. According to her, ‘the word “glamour” was obscure before 1900. It meant a delusive charm and was used in association with witchery and the occult’ (2010, 9). Indeed, the Encyclopedia of Wicca & Witchcraft explains that glamour is ‘the art of enchantment. In occult lore, glamour is the ability to create an illusion around a person, place, or thing’ (Grimassi 2000, 184). It was related to gypsies, Spanish ‘duendes’ (goblins) and the art of visual manipulation or ‘deceptio visus’ (Blanco-Carrión 2016, 27–52).

AHS, an anthology series known for its mix of camp aesthetics and queerness, evokes this first meaning, returning glamour to its historical roots: a charming surface with a dark side. Beyond the glitz, feathers, furs and sequins, we will argue, lies an underside that has often gone unnoticed but that the series emphasizes: as Postrel (2013) notes ‘the flip side of glamour is horror. Glamorous archetypes like the vampire, the con man, the femme fatale and the double agent remind us of how easy it is to succumb to manipulation and desire’ (Postrel 2013, 121), as glamour anaesthetizes and aestheticizes horror via prettiness. The glamorous component is the ‘up’ side of the fabric, and the horror is the ‘under’. As Liz Taylor (Denis O’Hare) says in AHS: ‘Hotel’ (2015); ‘cut me and I bleed Dior’:1 horror and glamour synthetized in one short sentence.

Type
Chapter
Information
American Horror Story and Cult Television
Narratives, Histories and Discourses
, pp. 207 - 218
Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2023

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